Do something together - what Indonesians taught me, part I

· April 28, 2014

One of the things that really surprised my wife and me when we were about to move to Indonesia was the schedule for our office. Every Friday, there’s a scheduled 2.5-hour exercise session from 8 AM. Special exercise clothing is provided by the office. Except once a month when we spend that time cleaning or repairing the office. These activities are required, and nothing else happens in the office during this time (no meetings, for example).

Every office (that I have seen and passed by on the streets) participates in this. The bank down the road is exercising or playing soccer in their parking lot. The police office is doing aerobics in their courtyard, and even the churches and their staff are outside, exercising.

It felt a bit strange initially, but I have come to appreciate these activities a lot, and maybe not for the reasons you might first think.

This is my second post (find the first post here) on things in Indonesian culture that have pleasantly surprised me and are worth considering in Western cultures too.

What really caught my attention and made me appreciate this from the start was that we were doing this together. Here’s how a typical exercise session would look:

  • 8-9 AM: Some kind of aerobic exercise, adjusted for everyone’s ability. We usually follow a video, led by someone in the office. I SUCK at this, of course. We have also taken walks or jogs around Bandung city.
  • 9-10 AM: Some other sporting activity. Some of us play ping-pong or badminton. The soccer ball has been out, and I even tried some Takraw (an awesome but super hard sport).
  • 10-10:30 AM: Snack and coffee together before we hit the showers or head to the office in our sweaty clothes. Yeah, it’s a bit smelly, but it’s only 1.5 hours to lunch.

These are hours full of laughter and easy-going conversations. You get to meet people from other parts of the office that you might not normally interact with. Already after the first Friday exercise session, I thought to myself:

If I were a company owner/leader, I would happily invest two hours each week for people to get together and have fun, exercise, and talk to each other to get to know each other better.

The same goes for the cleaning days (every four weeks), but they have an additional twist. On these days, we take the exercise time to clean or repair the office or the surrounding areas. These days are also filled with laughter and conversation. The added part is that we are now cleaning the facilities we use, making it better, nicer, and cleaner for us.

Part of my team cleaning up the yard. Yes, that's my empty chair over there.
Part of my team cleaning up the yard. Yes, that’s my empty chair over there.

Last Friday, the entire office spent the session in the garden and the exterior of the office. It was a joy to see people join forces and make the surroundings beautiful and nice. In Indonesian culture, hierarchy is important and strongly adhered to, but this was gone now. The highest-ranking manager (officer in Salvation Army terms) took instructions from the gardener. The gardener got input and ideas from the finance staff. It was beautiful!

This makes me appreciate the things we have more, I think. It’s unlikely that I will spill something on the floor without cleaning it up since I knew how hard it was to remove that coffee stain last time. It also creates a much stronger feeling of this being our office. I have invested more into it.

In the consensus culture that I come from, you would probably have people vote on what to fix next and do that together. Improving your world little by little.

Connecting back to a previous post, I think that doing stuff together, especially physical activities, bonds people. We, you and I, have planted that tree. We have cleaned this together. I think it’s a great way to know the person behind the keys of all those emails, or that code, or what have you.

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